Still the Bogey of Assessment prevails

It was interesting when several vox pop items in the television were news interviews of family groups about the impact on students as the lockdown prevailed. Concerned parents and the students themselves expressed concern at the impact on their progress and ability to complete the course if this lockdown went on and on and on.

They were especially talking about NCEA and it could be that their concerns were able to be softened. I was particularly interested that when they talked about the disruption to NCEA they used the old language of the assessment regime, and I can understand why that happens. I find that the older community members with teenage students don’t quite understand the difference between norm-referenced assessment – the old examinations, the School Certificate Examination, Sixth Form Certificate, and Bursary Examinations – and the Standards-Based assessment of NCEA.

The New Zealand Drivers Test is also standards-based and there are some features that what we know we could understand by thinking about standards -based assessment and the issues raised if the NZ Driver’s License on a norm referencing basis. It would go something like this.

All candidates for a licence test would have to present themselves on a single designated day to sit the test. Imagine the chaotic scenes were that attempted. 

Of course, with the sort of number being tested there could not be practical test. Rather it would be a theory test. No-one would get to drive a car for the test but would have to answer questions about driving. 

In the best of norm-reference exams the results would be massaged to fit a pre-determined pattern. About half would pass and get their license. Half would get their licence – both rather unpalatable issues when you think about it!

The skills of driving would be separated in topics: rules of the road, being an observant driver, parking the car, managing a trailer, speed limits, driving in lanes, and so on. But asking questions about each element of bring a driver would in no way be a guide as to the performance of a driver when they had to consider demonstrating all the skills simultaneously and in situation where there were drivers on the road each of various levels of competence.

Based on the theoretical and the distribution of marks some drivers would be deemed to be Class A, others Class B, still others Class C.  Perhaps the rest would be BO Class (i.e., Bicycle Only

The old examinations system worked exactly as this bizarre and almost unbelievably stupid set of assessment procedure that we have applied to the Driver’s License ex it was applied to real subjects about which the demonstration of competence and knowledge and skills was determined by 1 examination.

But the New Zealand world of assessment has changed. NCEA does not operate like an examination. The key differences are:

  • Students know full well what they need to know and do.
  • Students do not just get one shot at the assessment of that knowledge and skill but can go over learning many times – practice make perfect or rather perfect practice makes perfect.
  • Students can present themselves for assessment when they feel ready since time served does not apply – they can learn at their own speed rather than perform in a class like synchronised swimmers or marching teams.
  • Working with others, even talking through their learning, is the reward for working collaboratively rather than a detention.
  • There are no set numbers for the proportion of students passing – they will get credit for what they have learnt and can demonstrate.

Students wondering about preparing for tests and handing work in can accept that there will be problems when they are freed from lockdowns.  Students will get credit for what they do and what they know. The message is to get on with the work they have been asked to complete. Enjoy the freedoms of learning at your own speed. 

In the 2020 Covid Lock-down the Minister of Education decided to award extra credits for every five credits earned by the student that reflected that additional work and perhaps even the stress of studying in lock-down circumstances. NCEA has the flexibility to reflect learning that cannot be split into smaller pieces but rather reflect the holistic understanding of whole subjects that students develop.

One last thought! How many students have set up Zoom Study Groups

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